Conformity to Ignorance


The old Zen master lived in utter simplicity in his mountain monastery with a few disciples. One night, a young monk feels a new sensation in his meditation. Something warm, pulsating, loving… and… furry? He looked down onto a cat. The tail flicked against his face again. The cat turned and rubbed his head on his knee, purring loudly. Gently pushing it away, the monk settled back into his meditation. Unruffled, the cat wound himself around the next disciple, to be again pushed away.

No matter how many doors and windows they closed, the cat always found its way into the meditation room. After a month of this feline audacity, the disciples had enough. They put a nice embroidered collar on him and attached it with a long lead to a pillar in the temple. They gave him a silk pillow, and every day they would feed him, stroke him, and play with him. The cat was very content with his new arrangement

A few years later, the old Master died. A young abbot from a different area was installed, and life resumed its peaceful rhythm. The new abbot did notice that a black cat was always tied to the northern pillar of the great temple, surrounded by choice offerings and sitting on an ornate silk pillow. Not wanting to look ignorant, he did not ask anyone about its presence, and assumed that it was a tradition of the monastery.

When the cat died, the abbot ordered another black cat to be found to take its place, and installed with full honor.

Over time, all the disciples who had known why the first cat was tied to the pillar died. The successive generations of monks gradually forgot the utilitarian purpose of tying the cat to the pillar. Yet the tradition lived on and flourished for centuries. The original collar was reverently worshipped as a relic. Books of theological commentaries were written on the spiritual significance of tying a black cat to the northern pillar. Legends of miraculous healings due to the intercession of the holy cat were compiled and studied devotedly. Trinkets and memorabilia were being mass produced. Business had never been better.


Posted on October 29, 2016 at 3:00 AM


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